Winter Nature Study (…and a Review of NaturExplorers – Coping with the Cold)

We have been loving Winter this year.  However, it has been bitter cold.  We’re experiencing some of the coldest days I can remember right now – freeze your nostrils together, cold!  But, there’s no escaping these Canadian Winters, so we might as well try to enjoy it!

We were in need of something interesting to get us outside and enjoying nature, so it was perfect timing when I received NaturExplorers unit studies from Shining Dawn Books to review.   This independent publisher offers numerous ebook unit studies from a Christ-centered perspective.  This review is only for one of the many NaturExplorer units available.  (I will be posting reviews and links for more of the units as we work through them!)

We have been thoroughly enjoying our study of “Coping with the Cold“, a nature study unit focusing on how animals survive the Winter.  I wanted to write a quite detailed review because author Cindy West has truly created something very special in these unit studies.

I’m excited to share them in hopes that other Moms and educators will find an incredible (and affordable!) tool for implementing more quality Nature Study into their homeschool.

Friends, these Nature Study units are FANTASTIC!

The NaturExplorers series is wonderfully in depth and so Charlotte Mason-friendly. Cindy has packed the pages full of incredible ideas and inspirations to jump start all kinds of nature study as well as notebooking and nature journaling.  The guide is easy to use and very well laid out and is an instant download. (Yaye!)  It is also good for quite the age range, with ideas to carry you from preschool to even highschool depending on how you use the information and how you direct your student.

Some of the elements include:

Getting StartedLiterature Launch gives a list of recommended children’s literature to inspire and introduce the concepts of the study (love this so much!), Inspiration Point and A Bit of Background offer the ‘teacher’ a chance to gain quick and easy basic understanding of the motivation behind the study and some background knowledge before heading into nature study both in and out of doors.

Getting Outside – Nature Walks and Outside Activities (the core of the curriculum) is the section where Cindy has written so many great topic-related ideas for getting outside!  This is exactly what I was looking for since the simple, “Hey let’s go for a walk,” doesn’t always captivate my kids anymore.  (Not after 10 years of nature walks… and especially not what it’s -10!)

Some of the ideas from Coping with the Cold include, observing animals in their habitats and recording your observations on one of the many notebooking pages included in the study,  watching animals who are collecting food for the winter (what are they collecting and where are they storing it?), watching birds and keeping a list of those that visit your backyard feeder(s), respectfully finding anthropods and hibernating insects in Winter,  searching for signs of animals (tracks, homes, hiding places, left-behind food bits, etc.), and many more unique ideas.

Branching Out – This section goes more in depth and, well, branches out on the topic of study.  There are many ideas for hands-on science experiments and activities, vocabulary and scientific concepts (this one includes a look at Allen’s Rule, Bergmann’s Rule, The Egg Rule, and Gloger’s rule, along with discussions and activities for the concepts of adaptation, camouflage, how to make your yard animal and bird friends, and much more.)

In the Branching Out section, you will also find a ton (really!) of ideas for research, study and creative writing.  The ideas were so many and so varied that I mentioned to my husband that I would surely keep these units for years to come and pull them out during the applicable seasons to use as a launching pad for Nature Study.  Cindy gives ideas such as, making a diorama, writing a paper about an animal who migrates, mapping migration habits and ‘flyways’,  making a pamphlet about migration, researching and writing about dormant frogs and/or animals that build burrows, and countless other ideas that could serve as a very engaging springboard for all ages.

Bible, Poetry, Artist and Picture Study, and Composer and Music Study…

I was very pleasantly surprised to find a whole section of completely Charlotte Mason-inspired topics of study within the NaturExplorers unit!  What a treat!  (This is where us Charlotte Mason-ers start to get nerdy…)

I love the Bible Lessons from His Creation section.  This highlights multiple verses and chunks of scripture that relate to the topic of study.  We used Matthew 6:28-30 as our copywork in our Nature Journals.

Poetry Place includes several titles of theme-related poems and suggested books of poetry.  For this unit, we printed off all the poems and read them aloud.  We used Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field as a nature journal page and learned more about the Canada Geese from Handbook of Nature Study.

I was so excited to discover the Artist and Picture Study References included as well.  What a wonderful addition to any Nature Study!  Cindy gives great suggestions for kid-friendly picture study with artists and artwork related to the topic (in this case, Winter and Winter animals).  We really gravitated towards studying works by Robert Bateman for this unit.  I was already familiar with some of his paintings and they are beautiful realist pieces, many of which show Canadian birds and animals in winter settings.

Composer and Music References offered some lovely ideas for music study, including, Vivaldi’s Winter (from Four Seasons), as well as a piece from Chopin.

There are also many notebooking pages to use within your home and homeschool – so many I couldn’t list them all!  Each page pairs easily with the content within the unit study and can be printed off as needed!

Just as a side note – we focused quite a bit on birds during this study, but it certainly is not exclusive to the topic of birds.  Coping with the Cold actually covers many topics quite extensively.  Because this year we have been so focused on our study of birds, it seemed natural to lean in that direction for this unit.  Hope that makes sense!

Some of our Winter Nature Study snapshots from this hands-on, Charlotte Mason-inspired unit…

“Can you dig a tunnel through the snow, the way Chipmunks dig underground?”

“Let’s create a burrow in the snow.”

More snow homes.

A peak at our neck of the Wintery Woods.

“Let’s leave some yummy snacks for the birds, Chipmunks, and Squirrels.”  Popcorn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds made a tempting feast and we were able to observe several types of birds and a beautiful little Red Squirrel who peaked out to grab some snacks before running back to the warmth of his home.

Making more winter snow forts (borrows).

Special Outing – A Wintery Walk at the Nature Sanctuary

We have the most lovely place close to our home where the birds are friendly enough to eat from your hand and the Squirrels and Chipmunks (in Spring and Summer) will follow you around and munch peanuts from your fingers.  We headed out to see what birds we could spot.  We were studying birds (we have been all year) and discussing what birds we could expect to see in Winter in Southern Ontario.  We were delighted with what we found!

Friendly and fast, the Black Capped Chickadee.

Simon’s bonding with a Black Capped friend.

Agile and fun to watch, the White Breasted Nuthatch is pretty common in our area.

Audrey and Simon feeding Nuthatches and Chickadees.  Audrey will stand stone still for a long time in an attempt to feed the birds.  What a great exercise in discipline, patience, and attention!

Can you spot the pretty male Cardinal?

A rare treat!  We haven’t had a Downy Woodpecker eat from our hands before.  This one looks like a female.  It took us several minutes of patiently waiting before she came!

Alex, thrilled to have the Chickadees come to his hand.

Another outing on a another day.  We decided to head out to a frozen lake to see if we could spot different types of birds.  We saw tons of Canada Geese flying overhead.  Simon enjoyed watching them through his binoculars.  

Backyard Birds…

Here’s a peak outside our back window – we have many species of birds in our backyard and the children love to watch them.  A Downy Woodpecker loves to visit our Suet and countless types of birds come to our feeders.  We even leave peanut butter toast for the Squirrels!  Also:  Backyard Birds by Robert Bateman is one of my favourite children’s books (non-fiction) about birds.  It is an amazing living book!

Always keep an easy to use Bird Guide close to where your feeders are hanging.  This allows for you and the children to easily identify new birds.

The view on a sunny morning…

Keeping lists of Winter birds you’ve seen can be a fun way to encourage the habit of attention, as well as infuse your children with a love of nature.  Our lists are quite a bit longer now, but here’s a snapshot from our kitchen…

A section from Backyard Birds by Robert Bateman.

Bateman’s art.

Books and Nature Journals

Three Reasons Animals Make Changes for Winter – Food, Shelter, Water.

Winter Vocabulary.

“Place the animals and birds in their proper winter habitat.”

Nature Journaling with younger students – Alex used his journal for copywork while listing backyard birds.

Alex’s pictures and sketches (no matter what!) always turn into some kind of robot being attacked by countless tiny fighting stick men…  oh, six year olds…

Learning about various types of animal adaptations.

Using Scripture for copywork in our nature journals.

Audrey’s “Underground Habitat” art page.

Simon’s list of the Winter birds he’s seen in our yard.

This is one of the many worksheets including in Coping with the Cold.  We used this as a narrative exercise.  

Audrey’s list of backyard birds with coloring.

Poetry page.

Audrey felt inspired to continue drawing different birds.

For giggles –

How are our hen girls Coping with the Cold?  (It’s their first Winter, as they are only 9 months old.)  They’re coping fairly well… although they do stand at the old back window staring in and looking pretty pathetic.  Yes, they are begging to come in…  *smile*

Thanks for reading, I pray this might inspire you to embrace the beauty all around you and dive into learning more about God’s amazing creation!  (Whatever is lovely… think on these things…)

I give the NaturExplorers series two great big thumbs up.  Definitely an incredible value for unit studies that are sure to enrich your home and family life!

Click here to view more details about Coping with the Cold and the many other NaturExplorers nature study units available at Shining Dawn Books!  

Other Ideas and Links for Winter Art and Picture Study:

Pieter Bruegel’s Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap
Winifred Austen’s beautiful art.

Some more beautiful Winter art from Robert Bateman (great for Picture Study):
Winter Lady-Cardinal
Scolding Chickadees
Silent Witness

Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of Coping with the Cold (NaturExplorers) from the publisher in exchange for my honest review… which is what you got!  Blessings!

Our Journey Westward


  • Unknown

    WOW!!! I have NO excuse to not be getting outdoors even in the winter! I look at all your snow and shiver. I am a beach girl who loves the sun and sand… cold weather is NOT my thing. But, you have inspired me! I am fascinated with the birds eating our of your children's hands… oh my goodness what a blessing!!! Thank you for a great article and some serious inspiration! Heading over to find this book now!!

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